Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We have graduated!

Puppy parties, play dates, riding golf carts -- it might seem like all fun and games for Dempsey, but we're doing real work, too.
As proof: Dempsey has graduated!!! Not from the entire program, of course, but from the "Perfect Puppies" class. He is now in "Awesome Adolescents." This means that the focus of our training will be less on good manners, and more on service dog skills.
Dempsey has already learned a few service dog skills, though they still need a lot of polishing (and not with doggie slobber, thank you very much). Here's a sneak peek at some of the skills we're working on.
Dempsey will use "tug" to help people take off socks, gloves, mittens, etc. Since Dempsey loves chewing on socks, we thought this would be a hard one for him, but he's mastering it quite well.

Light switch

Dempsey is learning to turn lights on and off. Well, not lights just yet, just the switch. (He still slobbers a lot, which is not a good thing with a live circuit.)


Dempsey is learning to retrieve a bunch of different objects: a bicycle lock, a can of tuna fish, keys, plastic salad tongs, medicine bottles, shoes, sunglasses, wallet, anything that you can possibly drop. (And believe me, I can drop a lot of things.) We're also adding complications, such as fishing things out from under the sofa, since it's a law of the universe that when you drop something, it will roll someplace not easily accessible. At this point, we're proudest of the credit card. It's hard to pick up, but Dempsey gets it!

On top of all this, we're still taking Dempsey someplace almost every day to train. We put more thought into this than might be obvious. For example, for pet stores, we don't just take Dempsey to the big national chains. To make sure Dempsey is comfortable in any setting, we also look for quirky little local stores, from hipster joints like Urbanimal ("Can I give your dog a hemp cookie?") to fancy-schmancy stores like Lulu & Luigi ("Would Dempsey like a jewel-studded collar?")

It's a big world out there, and we want Dempsey to grow up to be a cosmopolitan dog, at home in the world.

Puppy party!

Dempsey went to a puppy party Monday night, his first, since he missed Boston's party earlier this summer.

I have to say, I was quite impressed, not just at the sight of 10 puppies zooming around the yard, but at how polite and well behaved all the pups were. When you think about it, we had a quarter ton of dogs running around, and yet no one got knocked over, no food was stolen, nothing got trashed, and there were no fights. This is more than I can say for some of the parties that I used to, um, hear about.

The picture above is an example. Marie baked up some special doggie treats and was passing them out to the puppies. Everybody stood and waited patiently (more or less) for their turn. (That's Dempsey, BTW, sitting alone to the right.) It looked like feeding pigeons, though the puppies were much better behaved. And cuter.

Here's a picture of Angel getting the rope to play tug:

And here are Angel and Dempsey playing tug, without tugging. (Did I mention how polite everyone was?)

A pile of puppies. I've given up trying to ID everyone.

Dempsey taking a break by his favorite toy:

Angel (top) and Sawyer (bottom) taking a break:

Ooh, new arrivals!

After the picnic, we all headed down to the St Croix River for a swimming lesson. Dempsey, you may recall, was quite the aquaphobe, but I thought seeing his siblings swimming would help him get over his fear of water. It did not.

I finally had to "baptize" him by taking him into the river and dunking him. Dempsey did swim at that point -- straight back to shore.

I tried enticing him back in the water with a tennis ball, but no dice:

I told Dempsey he'll miss a lot of fun in the Land of 10,000 Lakes if he doesn't swim, but he disagreed. I think he likes being a fancy, city dog.

Thanks to Rugby for hosting the party! Except for the swimming, Dempsey had a lot of fun.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lonesome dog blues

Dempsey had a ball last week when her sister Nala was visiting. Now that she's gone, Dempsey seems a little sad and lonesome. Here are some "before" and "after" pics.

Nala and Dempsey were incapable of walking anywhere. Even for bathroom breaks, they would run out and leap down the steps. Since their bones are still developing, we didn't let them leap very often, but we figured a few times would help build their bone density. Below is a rare shot of the leaping dogs. Just make sure you look closely -- they fly by pretty fast.

Towards the end of the week, the kids got a lot better at sharing their toys. Here they are calmly chewing their own toys, instead of fighting for the toy the other one has.

Of course, the detente was temporary. Here they realize that they could be wrestling instead of playing quietly by themselves. They started chasing each other around the house again, till they pooped each other out and took a nap.

After Nala left, we tried cheering Dempsey up with some of the (hopefully) durable new toys we bought for him. It worked -- for a while. It's just not the same without a little friend to chase around and play with!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Practice makes perfect

We had another tornado drill today, and I'm happy to report that practice does make perfect. Almost.

Dempsey and his visiting sister were running around, as usual, when I heard the tornado siren go off. Like last time, the puppies were completely oblivious. At first I thought it was a drill, since the siren went off on trash day in the early afternoon. But then it occurred to me that it wasn't the first Wednesday of the month, so I turned on the TV. Somebody was calling from her car to tell the reporter she had seen a funnel cloud from I-35W, near where the bridge collapsed.

Eek! That's only a couple of miles from our house! I had to get the kids to the basement.

My big innovation this time was ignoring the maxim "walk, do not run." Instead, I just lobbed a tennis ball down the stairs to the basement. The puppies immediately took off after it. Next, I picked up two leashes, the cat, and the squeaky squirrel. I walked calmly downstairs, put the cat in the crate, and tied the leashes to some posts. Then I squeaked the squirrel.

The puppies immediately stopped wrestling over the tennis ball, and skipped over to me. While they were politely sitting, waiting for me to give them the squirrel, I snapped on the leashes. Voila! Easy.

We're still not quite perfect, however. A few minutes later, the power went out, and we were in the dark, literally. We were also in the dark, figuratively, since we had now lost cable TV and WiFi. I couldn't hear the tornao siren, but I didn't know if that was because the power was out or if the warning was over. I tried calling someone on my cell phone, but that was out, too.

I suppose I should replace the beer in the emergency kit with a tiny blue transistor radio. That's what the pioneers had, right?

P.S. I have some pics and videos of puppies playing, which I'll post as soon as I can stop this @#$% WiFi from dropping me halfway through. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Can I help you?

I have to take back all the mean things I said about Dempsey in my last post. The other night, we were training at a Blockbuster Video, and Dempsey was so good, we attracted attention.

We were practicing "move" and "retrieve" near a quiet corner of the store. I was pretending to look at a copy of Prognosis Negative, when I dropped some keys.

"Dempsey! Get it!" Dempsey dutifully picked up the keys for me. I dropped the keys again, this time partly under one of the shelves. Dempsey picked them up for me again. We kept repeating this several times, every 5 seconds or so.

When we'd completed a set, I decided to move along. "Dempsey! Move!" We hadn't practiced "move" outside the house, so Dempsey wasn't quite sure what to do. I shuffled into him, until he moved out of my way. We repeated this a few more times.

That's when the store manager came up to me.

"Hi, sir," he said apologetically. "I don't know if you can see, but we're doing some remodelling back here. There are some racks on the floor up ahead, so please be very careful walking there."

I thought this was a little weird. "Um, thank you. I do see the racks, and we'll stay out of that area."

"Great! And, you know, if you need any help or anything picking something up, or carrying something, please don't hesitate to ask one of our associates. We'll be happy to help."

This is when it dawned on me that the manager thought Dempsey and I were graduates. I explained that Dempsey was still a puppy in training.

"Oh, I get it!" he laughed. "I thought he looked pretty young. The way you kept dropping things and walking into him, it looked like your dog needed some help. He's so well behaved for 6 months, I didn't know he was in training. I thought he was working."

We chatted for a bit about the public access test and team training, and how a real graduate would be able to control a dog in public. The manager handled the situation well, not asking why I had a service dog and trying to be helpful. I thanked him for his understanding.

So, to say it "publicly": Thank you to Blockbuster Video for training your staff so well in working with service dogs and people with disabilities! And Dempsey, thank you for making me look so good, albeit nearsighted and clumsy -- which, as loyal blog followers can attest, I am. Can't blame the dog for that one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The mule

We knew the night we picked Dempsey up that we had a wonderful puppy. What we did not know is that someday, that wonderful little puppy would turn into a stubborn old mule.

Dempsey, you see, is entering canine adolescence. This means that he is becoming willful and rebellious. And that he is starting to get on our nerves.

He has a new habit now, when we ask him to "go to bed" or sit in his kennel, of sighing quite dramatically before sulking over. He refuses to go into hot cars. On walks, he will sometimes plop down and refuse to budge. Training is less fun that it used to be. We'll tell him to "sit," which we know he knows, but he won't. He'd rather run off and check out what's on the counters, or maybe try sitting on the sofa -- anything that he knows he is not allowed to do.

The other day at lunch, he finally got to me. I had really been looking forward to spending time with the boy, but that day I couldn't get him to behave, much less train. I tried calming him down with a humane restraint, but he kept trying to play bite me. I finally got fed up and locked him in the kennel. Since I had planned a canine lunch, I decided to run some canine errands, sans the canine.

My first stop was the dog park. I had never been to to the dog park, and I wanted to see some dogs.

Now, one of the things we really like about Helping Paws is that, though there are a lot of rules, there are invariably good, well thought-out reasons behind the rules. Helping Paws does not allow Dempsey to go to dog parks because of the risk of dog fights, unvaccinated dogs, and escape. All very good reasons, but they forgot to mention what I think is the most compelling reason of all: criminals. Here's the sign at the entrance to the dog park:

I checked for my wallet and looked around for axe murderers, and it seemed like the coast was clear. As I started to open the gate, it occurred to me that "the coast is clear" is exactly what a criminal would be thinking, too. I found it hard to "Enjoy the Park!"

My next stop was the pet store, where I planned to look for some new, indestructible toys for Dempsey. I was specifically looking for something made of steel or Kevlar, but I didn't find anything. I thought of how sweet little Angel goes to bed with a little teddy bear, so I looked through the stuffed toys. I turned over the packaging of a stuffed raccoon to see where it was made, and I found some advice for dog owners: "The best gift you can give your dog is your time."

Suddenly I was wracked with guilt. I thought of poor little Dempsey in his toy-less kennel, waiting with his sad little puppy dog eyes to see me.

I put the toy back on the shelf and drove home.


Dempsey was still in a feisty mood when I got back, but I was determined to enjoy spending time with him. As the motivational poster says, "The biting will continue until morale improves."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tornado drill!

We had been concerned that perhaps we had socialized Dempsey a little too well to scary stimuli like tornado sirens and thunder. Last night, our fears came true.

Dempsey's sister Angel was visiting, and Dempsey and Angel had just finished dinner and were busy playing chase around the house, completely oblivious to the loud thunder outside -- yea! -- as well as to the tornado siren that went off.
Doreen turned on the TV to find out what was happening. There were reports of golf-ball size hail about two miles from our house, and the newscaster said that our house was in the most dangerous area, near the edge of the cell where tornados were most likely to develop.

It was time to put some the puppies' skills to the test! The first skill is what we call the "really reliable recall." The idea here is that you want the puppy to come to you no matter what, and we train for it by giving the puppies really yummy, special treats, followed by 20 seconds of uninterrupted praise. What we want the puppies to learn is that coming when called is going to be the highlight of their day, the best thing that can possibly happen.

And it worked! More or less. Both Dempsey and Angel stopped chasing each other and immediately came running over to us to collect their special treats. However, we were not able to give them 20 seconds of praise, because the best thing that can possibly happen to a puppy is getting the very special treat, and then immediately returning to playtime with another puppy.
We tried again -- same result. The thunder was getting ominously loud, so we knew we had to use the nuclear option, the only thing in the world that is more interesting to a puppy than yummy treats and another puppy. That is, we had to use the cat.
Doreen picked Bailey up from her bed. Bailey was not happy about being awakened only 19 hours into her 20-hour nap, and she meowed loudly in protest. This got the puppies' attention; they stopped their chase and dashed over to follow Doreen to the basement as she carried Bailey.
I followed the four of them downstairs, and quickly snapped on the leashes. I was in a hurry, because Bailey was getting very nervous, and our basement is unfinished and quite emphatically not puppy-proofed. In my haste, I put Angel's leash on Dempsey, and Dempsey's leash on Angel.
Dempsey started pulling me hard to the left, while Angel, ominously, began sniffing the floor very intently. We all knew what this meant, but of course with the storm and possibly a tornado outside, we couldn't take the poor girl outside to the bathroom. While she was busy pooping on the concrete, I dropped her leash and tied Dempsey to a post. When Angel was done, I brought her to another nearby post, and tied her to that.

I thought I finally had the dogs under control, until I noticed Dempsey was suspiciously quiet. The reason: He had been chewing up Angel's leash. Aargh!

I had to get the puppies' attention, but in our rush we hadn't brought any toys. Doreen had just finished putting Bailey in her kennel and was now busy hooking up the spare TV so we could follow the storm. While Doreen worked, I tried making funny barnyard-animal noises and shadow puppets to entertain the puppies. I don't know why I even thought to try that, except that I had been thinking about Laura Ingalls Wilder earlier that night. I can report that today's dogs do not find shadow puppets to be even remotely amusing, even if I can do a pretty good shadow bunny.

Luckily, we both had our treat bags with us. We started looking around for objects to practice retrieve. It's a basement, after all, the graveyard for everything we don't use but might possibly need someday: a chain saw, a blowtorch, a 3x6 piece of Sheetrock. All pretty heavy, alas.

We looked around some more and found a giant jug of Drano Max from Costco and a bottle of Bug Getta Slug and Snail Killa. Hey honey, has Dempsey ever practiced retrieving dangerous poisons or pesticides?

We kept looking and found a VHS tape of Richard Simmons, a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and the "inspirational" poster that human resources gave to everyone one year for Christmas instead of a bonus. Since we got most of Dempsey's retrieve objects at the dollar store, we're already worried that we're teaching him to retrieve only cheap, tacky things. No, inspirational posters will not do.

By this time, Dempsey had coiled himself around the post and was barking, and Angel had pulled so hard her collar came off. Bailey was still howling. And, of course, the aroma of freshly laid puppy poop was filling the room.

I decided I had to risk life and limb to run upstairs for some emergency supplies: a bag for the poop; extra treats, chew toys, and water for the dogs; a bed for the cat; an aromatherapy candle for Doreen (did I mention the pervasive aroma of dog poop?); and a bottle of beer for me. It was worth the risk. Within five minutes, everybody was a happy camper.

I think we now know what we need to add to our emergency kit in the basement.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Golf and logs

It's a big week for golf here in Minnesota. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and a bunch of other people I haven't heard of are coming for the "PGA Championship," which I guess is the last "major" on the "PGA tour." (We're not big golf fans, if it's not obvious already.)

For Dempsey, the big golf event was today: the Fore Paws Golf Tournament at French Lake Golf. Like his parents, Dempsey is not really into golf, but he enjoyed riding the golf cart around the course and meeting all the players.

He also had a chance to see his brother Sawyer, who really does look just like him. We had to double check, but we are pretty sure it is Dempsey on the left, and Sawyer on the right in the pic below.

Dempsey says "thank you!" to the nice people at French Lake Golf, as well as to the players and all the event sponsors.


By popular request, here's a picture (from the back) of the re-creation of the Ingalls cabin in Pepin, Wisconsin:

I'm not sure how historically accurate this re-created cabin is. It seems pretty well made, with nice smooth glass in the windows and what looks like milled lumber in the roof deck. The logs are hand hewn, but not rough hewn like they are in the re-creation of the Ingalls house in Kansas. Just knowing that they lived in a sod dugout on the banks of Plum Creek, this house seems almost too luxurious.

It was kind of neat to see, anyway. If you visit the upper Midwest, you can pretty easily do a tour of many of the "little house" sites. If you're in the L.A. area, the "Little House" TV series was shot not far from my hometown at Golden Oak Ranch, the private property of the Walt Disney Corporation.

Finally, the current issue of the New Yorker has an essay about Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane. It's a bit TMI for me. I liked the books as a kid, and I'm happy to remember them that way without wondering what it means that Sarah Palin also liked Little House on the Prairie.

Speaking of TMI, I've now said all I have to say about logs.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The most beautiful scenic sight

Doreen and I have collectively been sick for over a month now, and we're getting a little cranky and stir crazy. Summers are precious in Minnesota, and we hate spending so much of it in bed!

This weekend we were feeling a little bit better, so we decided to venture out on a Sunday drive. We took Dempsey to "one of the most beautiful scenic sights in the world."

How do we know this? Because there is a sign in Pepin, Wisconsin, that says that there is a sign in Paris, France, that says so:

I'm not sure why a sign in France would be more authoritative than a sign in Wisconsin; maybe it's a nod to the French contributions to semiotics.

At any rate, we made a lazy circumnavigation of Lake Pepin. Here's what we saw:

Red Wing: Apparently, we just missed the shoe parade and the grand opening of the shoe museum, which showcases the world's largest boot. According to "World's Largest Roadside Attractions," Minnesota is home to 35 of the world's largest somethings, not counting the boot. This beats Texas (23), which I used to think was the home of big. You learn something every day.

Frontenac: Frontenac is an old riverboat stop and resort on the Mississippi River that has a collection of quaint old houses. According to the Old Frontenac brochure, the Archbishop of St Paul, John Ireland, said in 1891 that Frontenac is "the loveliest place in the Northwest and in the whole country." This would make sense, as it is on the shores of Lake Pepin. Here's Dempsey enjoying the view of the loveliest place in the whole country:

Lake City: Lake City, Minnesota, is the birthplace of water skiing. We've seen videos of dogs water skiing, but Dempsey won't be doing that anytime soon; he has a serious case of aquaphobia. I tried encouraging him to enter the water, but he's unwilling to even for peanut butter, his favorite treat. Eventually, I got him to at least stop barking at the waves. Since he's training to be a service dog and not a bird dog, I think that's good enough for now.

Wabasha: Wabasha, we learned, is the setting for the movie "Grumpy Old Men." The town has a "Grumpy Old Men" festival every February, featuring "a grumpy breakfast, Bingo, raffles, minnow races, a hotdish luncheon, Frostbite Frisbee (after the pet pageant) and a spaghetti dinner. The ice fishing contest takes place from 11-2." We thought about entering Dempsey into the pet pageant, but he said he has no interest in competing for "Miss Grumpy."

Pepin: Pepin is most famous as the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Today, there's a recreation of the log cabin she was born in. Dempsey posed for some pictures by the log cabin, and then we spent a good ten minutes learning not to be scared of the water pump. We're not sure why he was so spooked by the pump; it didn't move or make noise, cause the vandals took the handle. We don't expect Dempsey will come across many water pumps in his work, but he's now prepared.

Isn't Dempsey growing up to be such a handsome dog?